Public servants wage talks
GPSU pressing for arbitration
Stabroek News
November 29, 2003

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The Guyana Public Service Union (GPSU) wants the negotiations for a multi-year wage package for public servants advanced to arbitration as it says that procrastination by government representatives is obstructing its timely resolution.

The union has written to Chief Labour Officer, Mohamed Akeel, about having an arbitrator deal with the outstanding multi-year wages, salaries and allowances negotiations.

At a press briefing at its Regent and New Garden streets headquarters on Thursday, union representatives said that the letter was sent to Akeel on October 24 and bemoaned the fact that a tribunal is yet to be established to advance the arbitration process.

Efforts to contact Permanent Secretary, Public Service Ministry (PSM) Dr Nanda Gopaul on the issue proved futile.

According to GPSU President Patrick Yarde, the union met on November 3 and is still awaiting a response from government on having this process advanced.

Yarde said that either party could request arbitration as outlined in collective bargaining agreements with government.

The union is expected to hold a general council meeting during the second week in December to decide on a course of action in light of the prevailing circumstances. It has asked its members to have faith and patience.

The union is demanding a minimum wage of $37,757 for 2003, rising to $45,308 in 2004 and finally to $56,635 for 2005. Government is only prepared to offer public servants a 10% increase spread over three years. For 2003 the government has suggested a 3.5% raise, with 3% in 2004 and finally a 3.5% in 2005.

This offer has been rejected by the GPSU, which says its acceptance of such a package would be condemning its members to a life of poverty.

Unionist Leslie Melville, at a press conference called by the union on October 15, said that the parties, who have been engaging each other since June 6, have during five negotiating sessions only managed to move from a position of 2.5% for 2003 to that of 10% over three years.

Melville had said government's offer had to be considered in the context of the inflation rate for 2002, which was 6.1% along with that for the period December 31, 2002 to July 31, 2003, which totalled 4.4%.

This, Melville said, amounts to a total increase of 10.5% since the last salary increase, a figure greater than the current offer by government. It also had to be judged against a promise made by the president who had said that salary increases will never be less than the inflation rate of the previous year, Melville added. It was his view that government is making heavy weather of the union's demands, which are usually compiled after careful study of existing statistical data available through the statistical bureau.

A meeting on Monday between the GPSU and PSM mediated by the Ministry of Labour also failed to break the deadlock leading the union to urgently press for arbitration.

Melville had told Stabroek News in a telephone interview that head of the government's negotiating team, Dr Gopaul had requested time to fashion government's final position.

Government in 2001 and 2002 had unilaterally imposed a wage hike for public sector employees after protracted negotiations with the GPSU failed to reach common ground and attempts to convene an arbitration panel fell through.

Melville, while noting that discussions at the conciliation stage have been exhausted, said government has yet to give any firm commitments on proceeding to arbitration. (Oscar P. Clarke)